On a language basis, IT people are quite technical and rarely speak in sentences not including an acronym, such as CPU or I/O. In contrast, the language of businesspeople often refers to money or some form of activity that leads to making money. When it comes to systems diagrams, IT people draw diagrams heavy with canister symbols for databases and lots of arrows, dashes and solid lines. In contrast, the businessperson's diagrams are much simpler and appear to have starting and ending points. When it comes to office attire, I will avoid getting myself in trouble with IT specialists and simply propose that if you asked people at a cocktail party to describe how IT people dress differently from businesspeople or users, it would lead to a lively discussion.
Despite these differences, there is evidence the divide is narrowing.
How Fast is the IT And Business User Divide Narrowing?
A more relevant question to me is the rate at which this divide is narrowing. My sense is that it is narrowing quicker than most people believe. This is a good thing because the better IT analysts and programmers understand business needs, the quicker and better will be the solutions.
My conclusion that the divide is quickly narrowing is based on a recent experience. I attended SAS Global Forum 2007, the annual conference of software users for SAS, a world leader in business intelligence and performance management software. This conference is traditionally intended for technical analysts, and the majority of the presentations are from users. Some of the presentations may not be of interest to just anybody. Titles included "Handling Large Stream Files with the @ 'string' Feature," "Calculating Duration via the Lagged Values of Variables," and one I can't say I'm sorry that I missed, "Using PROC SQL List Processing with Dictionary.Columns to Eliminate Macro DO Loops." I think you get the idea of how technical these sessions can be.
My sense that the IT-business divide is more quickly narrowing is based on a novel change at this conference. Nontechnical industry-focus presentations were added. Presentations were made by executives and senior managers, the types whose children continue to teach them how to use their laptops. Presentation topics included "Increasing Revenue and Brand Loyalty in a Multichannel World" and "Customer-Managed Relationships." My surprise was the high attendance of both technical and nontechnical people at these nontechnical sessions as well as the thoughtful questions that followed.
Who Says IT Techies Cannot Understand Business?
One of the liveliest discussions I not only witnessed but also participated in was during the question-and-answer period following my presentation, "Performance Management in Government." I apparently stimulated one of the attendees in my talk when I observed that while many organizations have balanced scorecards (though there is little consensus on what a scorecard is), few have developed their strategy map from where the scorecard key performance indicators (KPIs) logically should be derived from. For organizations without strategy maps, I asked, "Are your KPIs the ones you can measure or the ones you should measure? How do you know those KPIs reflect the strategic intent of your executive team?"
Well, this comment struck home with a technical attendee in my session. I could tell he was a "techie" by the large number of pens in his shirt pocket. He ranted that he believed his senior management was improperly measuring things without fully appreciating the impact or effect on improving their organization. (I have written about this topic in two other DM Review columns.)1,2 He also revealed that his own IT department was applying KPI measures. These observations are validations that the technical world increasingly is understanding the issues of the business world.
My general observation here is that IT specialists do care about how their organizations are led and managed, including the integration of the performance management component methodologies. The simple fact that you are now reading this column (and many other DMReview.com readers are as well, judging from this column's high Web hit rankings) is evidence to all of us that the IT-business divide is narrowing.
1. Gary Cokins. "The Promise and Perils of the Balanced Scorecard." DMReview.com, August 4, 2005.
2. Gary Cokins. "Distinguishing Between Signal and Noise - KPIs versus PIs." DMReview.com, December 2, 2005.